The Waldheim Cemetery

The Waldheim Cemetery in Forest Park, Illinois, is where the martyrs of Chicago’s Haymarket Affair are buried. Over the decades, I’ve been out to the martyrs’ monument several times, but May 1st has generally found me submerged in the details of an annual fundraising dinner in addition to the usual all else. Now I’m retired, so this last April 26, I took the CTA Blue Line to its Forest Park end and walked the few blocks south to the cemetery.

The day had a really wonderful light and, away from Lake Michigan, it was actually warm. It was, unfortunately, a day in which I never really awakened so my efforts to locate everyone I wished to visit were not all that successful.

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The Haymarket Martyrs’ monument (center) in the Waldheim Cemetery. Photo by Roman.

The monument is owned by the Illinois Labor History Society. They were not the original owners and, yes, there is an interesting story about how it came to be their responsibility. I don’t recall the story well enough to relate it, but it’s worth noting that a contribution to the Society does help with the monument’s upkeep.

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Haymarket Martyrs’ Monument. Photo by Roman.
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Haymarket Martyrs’ monument, decoration. Photo by Roman.

Note the offerings: I’m mystified about the coins and rocks, but the buttons make sense. Also note the anarchist graffito. Relations between the Illinois Labor History Society and various self-styled anarchists have been a bit tense over the years. The anarchists are happy to be disgruntled about the Society’s liberal and social democratic and labor and socialist and communist connections — bourgeois state-ists! — and that the National Park Service gave the site official recognition. Recognition of anarchists by the state?! The state that killed them?!!

The traffic at the monument is not huge but there is a constant trickle. While I was there, a women stopped by driving an SUV. She toured the monument and several graves behind. After a while I came up and asked, “Come to pay respects?”

“Every year,” she replied.

She left shortly after. I hope I didn’t speed her departure, but I do make some folks uneasy.

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Haymarket Martyrs’ monument, decoration. Photo by Roman
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Haymarket Martyrs’ monument, decoration. Photo by Roman
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Haymarket Martyrs’ monument, rear. Photo by Roman
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Emma Goldman’s grave, Waldheim Cemetery. Photo by Roman

More than just the Haymarket martyrs are buried around the monument. Here is the famous anarchist Emma Goldman. Note the offerings, also no graffiti. If you’ve not read her autobiography, you really should make the effort. Two volumes: she had a lot to say but not so much as that inflated ego, Winston Churchill.

The Illinois Labor History Society has documented nearly 100 lefties buried around or near the monument, mostly anarchists and stalinists with a few odd trotskyists and democratic socialists and labor folks thrown in. Plus, there are others who’ve had their ashes scattered around the monument. (Welcome back, “Big Bill” Haywood! I don’t believe this return to Chicago counts towards getting back that bail money your supporters put up.) If anarchists and stalinists sound like an odd combination, keep in mind they both have a similar view of government: it’s an instrument of oppression.

For my part, I’d be happy to fertilize the roots of some marijuana plants, though I’d settle for tomatoes if need be. Take a deep breath and hold me in.

During the summer months, the Society has guided tours of the Monument and graves around it. You can find out more HERE.

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Tobey and Mort Prinz at the Waldheim Cemetery. Photo by Roman.

I brought along a map of lefty graves from the Illinois Labor History Society, but I didn’t locate most of the ones I wanted, especially those at any distance from the monument. This is too bad as there are a few folks buried here who I actually knew and worked with.

Two of them were Tobey and Mort Prinz. When I moved to Rogers Park, I moved into a building that was the object of an organizing campaign by the Rogers Park Tenants Committee. Tobey Prinz was one of the leaders of the organization, so much of my brief career as a tenant organizer involved working with her and Mort. Residents of Rogers Park can thank these two (among others) for Loyola Park.

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Ralph Helstein had been head of the United Packing House Workers Union. Photo by Roman

Ralph Helstein had been the President of the United Packinghouse Workers of America. He gained some fame (or notoriety) by successfully resisting the McCarthy era purge of communists from AFL-CIO unions. He was also an early honoree at the annual Democratic Socialist Organizing Committee’s Thomas – Debs Dinner in Chicago.

I met Ralph and Rachel Helstein a few times, and I once attended a meeting at their Hyde Park home. In this century, I got to know their daughter, Nina, who I’m always glad to see when our paths cross at demonstrations or other events.

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Lucy Parsons at the Waldheim Cemetery. Photo by Roman

Did I mention anarchists and stalinists? Before I forget, here’s a famous person that embodies both: Lucy Parsons, the widow of Haymarket martyr anarchist labor leader Albert Parsons. She ended up a member of the Communist Party. My cynical take on it is that with membership she could continue advocating that workers organize and smash the state while at the same time having the Party support her. After all, how else is a radical woman of color going to earn a living in Jim Crow America? Her old anarchist comrades were not impressed, from what I’ve read. Even so, I would have hoped for a monument more monumental. She played a larger role in U.S. politics — both in life and after — than this modest rock would suggest.

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Photo by Roman

I have no idea what this is. There’s no inscription that I noticed beyond a date in Roman numerals on a tablet within. There’s a story here but I don’t know what it is. It’s probably the second most interesting item at the Waldheim after the Martyrs’ monument and its associated graves.

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Photo by Roman

Aside from the above, the Waldheim Cemetery is boring. Apart from some of the older monuments, there is a manufactured quality to the place, lacking any sense of history or individuality. Some of the newest large monuments seem to be homages not to the departed but to “brutalist” architecture — if not steel and glass, the geometry is the same. It’s not as bad as a “ticky-tacky” suburban housing tract, but…

Well, there are always trees.

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Waldheim Cemetery. Photo by Roman

Author: rmichaelroman

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